If you've ever wondered what The Grand Duke (or The Statutory Duel) is all about, let us tell you...
Legal Notes on the Constitution of The Grand Duchy of Pfennig Halbpfennig
All Legislative Acts are subject to a 100 year ”Sunset” clause (ie - they automatically expire & cease to have any legal effect 100 years from the date they are passed-unless renewedby royal decree). The provision for Statutory Duels is set out in an Administrative Law, which seeks to prevent bloodshed by allowing two (usually) men to settle their differences by drawing cards rather than fighting with swords or pistols. The loser is declared “legally dead” & the winner assumes all his debts and other legal responsibilities - including contractual obligations and wives! This law (like all others) is subject to the 100 year ”Sunset” Clause & the action of the opera takes place on the eve of the expiry of the law relating to Statutory Duels.
The Synopsis of The Grand Duke
Act 1 Scene 1 - The Stage of theTheatre Royal, Speisesaal in the Grand Duchy of Pfennig Halbpfennig - Midnight
In the early hours of the morning, members of Ernest Dummkopf’s Light Opera Company are celebrating at the last night party of Offenbach’s “The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein” & looking forward to their forthcoming Gilbert & Sullivan Season. The party coincides with the planned marriage of Ludwig (the leading comic baritone) & Lisa (the soubrette). Beneath the theatrical veneer, they are all involved in a conspiracy to overthrow the disliked and miserly Grand Duke Rudolph of Pfennig Halbpfennig & to elect Ernest in his place. To Ernest’s delight, Julia Jellicoe insists that, as his leading soprano, she will automatically assume the role of Grand Duchess. Ludwig, inadvertently reveals the conspiracy to the Grand Duke’s personal detective. To deal with this situation & to protect the conspirators from prosecution, Dr Tannhauser (the Company’s Solicitor) advises Ludwig to fight a Statutory Duel with Ernest, whereupon the loser will be “legally dead “ & so will avoid any recrimination. The winner will then denounce the loser as the instigator of the coup & receive a royal pardon for being an informer. As the law relating to statutory duels is due to expire the following day, the loser will then come to life again as if nothing had happened. The two men draw cards, Ernest loses & Ludwig prepares to denounce Ernest to Grand Duke Rudolph & seek a royal pardon.
Act 1 Scene 2 - The Public Square of Speisesaal – The Next Morning
Later that morning in a café, Grand Duke Rudolph discovers over breakfast with his fiancée (the equally stingy Baroness von Krakenfeldt), that there is to be a plot to overthrow him. Ludwig finds Rudolph so frightened by news of the conspiracy, that Ludwig persuades him to agree to be the loser in a rigged Statutory Duel, resulting in Ludwig becoming Grand Duke for just one day until the danger is over. However, upon his accession, Ludwig immediately extends the law for another 100 years (thereby becoming Grand Duke for life) & Rudolph & Ernest both remain “legally dead”. Ludwig has no option but to accept Julia as his Grand Duchess. But theshow must go on, & Ludwig decrees that the theatrical costumes for the forthcoming Season are to be worn at Court as they assume their new responsibilities.
Act 2 – The Throne Room of The Grand Duke Palace – The Following Day
At the Grand Ducal Palace, Ludwig, in great ceremony & with Julia at his side, presents his programme for government. Baroness von Krakenfeldt arrives claiming “The Grand Duke“ as her husband. Ludwig is compelled to marry her but is interrupted again by the arrival of the Prince of Monte Carlo, whose daughter was betrothed to Grand Duke Rudolph in infancy. The Princess & her father have travelled from the South of France with an extravagant theatrical retinue, all paid for by the Prince’s latest invention - Roulette. Ludwig is now faced with four competing potential brides. It is left to the lawyer, Dr Tannhauser, to unravel the situation.